I was very taken by the concepts of visitors and residents. Dave White’s description of what a visitor is describes quite accurately what I feel, and how I relate to social media. I tend to use it in a goal oriented way, as a ‘box of tools’ which helps me get what I need whether it is to search blogs to find information on something I am working on, scan Twitter for topics of interest, or even look at Facebook to find out what my son is up to when away at university. I can also feel uncomfortable about the publicness of social media and am reluctant to post my thoughts out there.
However, whilst I can relate to the visitors and residents analogy when talking about an individual’s relationship to social media, it took me a while to get my head around to applying the same concepts to organisations.
For example, the Library has got both a Facebook and a Twitter presence but can certainly only be described as a visitor. It is a way to post news about the library, give updates about service disruptions or upgrades and can be considered a relatively painless way to reach users if indeed we are able to reach some in this way. I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable when the library first went on Facebook, as it felt a bit like an embarrassing parent trying to be ‘cool’. Do students really want to be friends of the Library? With 73 friends on Facebook after a year, most of them staff rather than students, I am not convinced that we can ever be resident on Facebook. Can it ever catch on? And what would becoming a resident mean for an organisation?
To try to answer this question, I tried to think about organisations which could be considered as resident but the closer I came was thinking about a radio programme. I sometimes listen to ‘Saturday live’ on Radio 4. Throughout the programme which has different guests every week, the host mentions the Facebook page which has become an extension of the programme. Pictures and extra information about the guests are posted online, and the conversation can carry on until well after the programme has ended. Through Twitter, a constant flow of remarks and opinions can be aired during the programme and continued after it. Because of its Twitter and Facebook presence, the radio programme has become more than a simple radio programme. It has become a ‘social space’ where a community of listeners gather during and after the programme has ended. With a new show every week, it is possible to ‘keep feeding the machine’ without becoming banal and stale. So a radio show such as this one can become a digital resident because it has its own audience who are connected by the fact that they like the same programme. Social media gives the radio show ‘added value’ by creating a space where these ‘connected’ people can carry on enjoying the ambience of the show.
Now I can’t see this being possible for the Library because I don’t think that users of the library feel a connection between each other as users of the library. Why would they want to use the library as a social space when outside it? Even if it was possible, as Ian says in his blog post, it would require such time and effort because it would mean a bunch of committed staff being the voice of the library, starting conversations, giving the library personality. And what voice or multiple voices would the library have? In my view, an organisation cannot become a resident if it does not acquire a ‘personality’ or a ‘voice’. Because, why else would people want to engage with it?
This is why I think that it is possible for small units within bigger organisation to become residents e.g. the Saturday Live programme or the UCPDWEP course. For wider organisations e.g. the BBC, DMU, I can’t see how they can become anything else than visitors: using social media to provide updates and news but not as a social space.